At bbcon 2015, some of the top minds in the nonprofit industry came together to present Big Idea sessions. These high-level discussions focused on key thought leadership topics and trends shaping the industry. In this monthly blog series, top Big Idea presenters will recap the topics they presented on so you can use their insight to build your next Big Idea. 

As the United States population becomes even more diverse, fundraisers have an unparalleled opportunity to employ strategies that engage new audiences, bring new voices to the table, and enrich the nonprofit sector with new talent and leadership.  Embracing the growing importance of diversity—as well as the role of women as donors is essential in the 21st century for philanthropy to reflect the values of a pluralistic society.

From a demographic perspective, census data projects that the United States will become a more diverse country by 2044 with Hispanic and Asian-American populations doubling by 2060.  African-Americans are also projected to increase their share of the total population, from 13.1 percent in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2060.  In California the Pew Research Center finds that Latinos have surpassed whites as the largest racial/ethnic group at 39% of the population, the largest percentage of any group in the state. Pew estimates that the Hispanic population in Texas is fast growing and may soon eclipse the white non-Hispanic population.

The concept of one-size-fits-all fundraising has been outdated for many years, especially when considering the growing power and influence of women donors. 

Although women have represented more than 50% of the U.S. population for decades and have been change agents in philanthropy for two hundred years, fundraisers are only slowly recognizing their power and influence in household charitable decision making.

Recent research from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy offers empirical evidence to suggest fundraisers can adapt their approaches today to ensure a pipeline of donors for tomorrow. The research dispels myths about who gives and why. We found that when we account for variables that affect giving such as education, income, and wealth, the incidence of giving or total amount given by households with an African American and/or Hispanic head of household is not significantly different from other ethnic and racial groups. We have found consistently that women are more likely to give and give more compared to their male counterparts.

The research affirms that philanthropy is embedded across all groups and genders.  What really motivates giving is the level of education, wealth and income, and engagement with a cause, issue or charitable organization.

Differences do exist, however, not only in the causes diverse communities support but also in their motivations and patterns of giving. To expand the donor base, it is important for fundraisers to understand values, motivations and cultural norms within diverse communities; to recognize the role of family ties, religion, and education within individual ethnic communities; and to appreciate the importance and value of informal giving in different cultures. Philanthropy is an integral part of the human narrative; in diverse communities and for women, it may look and feel different from typical social norms.

Gender differences also exist in motivations for giving and patterns of giving.  What works for men may not work for women. For example, in higher education the campaign model of fundraising with deadlines, competition among classes, naming opportunities, and sense of urgency may be tailored more to male preferences than to female. Adapting strategies to include women in the campaign leadership cabinet and to develop initiatives that will appeal to women will generate good will and good gifts from them.

Demographics and data provide compelling reasons for nonprofit organizations across the U.S. to accelerate their efforts to engage individuals from diverse communities, including women, in their fundraising efforts. Some organizations such as United Way Worldwide have developed specific initiatives to begin conversations with ethnic communities and women. This enables the organization to build bridges and develop social networks within the communities. Other organizations have recruited staff and fundraisers from diverse communities not only to engage with potential donors but also to teach internal staff about cultural norms and suggest ways to communicate effectively with different audiences.  Another strategy is to identify projects that may appeal to the specific audiences in mind.

With intentional strategies come the opportunity to engage new prospects in fundraising. Donors from diverse backgrounds often share that they have not been asked to give or participate despite long-standing linkages with charitable organizations.

Mobilizing donors to effect change starts within by assessing the organizational culture, readiness for change, and willingness to go beyond what’s worked in the past to embrace the new reality of a more diverse donor pool for today and tomorrow.

The authors, both from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, are Dr. Una Osili, Director of Research and Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies, and Andrea Pactor, MA, Associate Director, Women’s Philanthropy Institute.


Dr. Una Osili is Director of Research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. An internationally recognized expert on philanthropy, Dr. Osili frequently speaks across the country on issues related to national and international trends in philanthropy and has been quoted by national news media outlets such as The New York Times, the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Times. She has served as a member of several national and international advisory groups, including the Social Science Research Council, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations Development Program. In 2006, she received the Stevenson Fellowship from the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council. In 2007, she was appointed as a fellow of the Networks Financial Institute. Dr. Osili is the current Chair of the Research Committee of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and is a member of the Research Committee of the Lake Institute for Faith and Giving. She leads the School’s extensive research program for its partners including Bank of America, United Way Worldwide, United Student Aid Funds, the Alban Institute, and National Collegiate Athletic Association. Dr. Osili provides guidance for the research for Giving USA, which is published by Giving USA Foundation.

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